Sunday, 5 Aug
Gnoli, Claudio. “Progress in synthetic classification: Towards a unique definition of concepts.” UDC Seminar: The Hague: 4-5 June 2007. Preprint of the paper published in Extensions & corrections to the UDC, 29, 2007. Available at dLIST.
Tuesday, 7 Aug
Miksa, Shawne. “You Need My Metadata: Demonstrating the Value of Library Cataloging (A Response to the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control). pdf
Rest of week, read more in both:
Raber, Douglas. The Problem of Information: An Introduction to Information Science. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2003.
Bade, David W. The Theory and Practice of Bibliographic Failure, Or, Misinformation in the Information Society. City of the Red Hero [Ulaanbaatar]: Chuluunbat, 2004.
Saturday, 11 Aug
Hjørland, Birger. “Information: Objective or Subjective/Situational?” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 58 (10): 1448-1456, 2007.
An interesting article, which consists primarily of showing that the view of information put forward by Marcia Bates in two recent articles is ill-suited to LIS.
It seems JASIST is also slipping into weak editing. So far it is minor, and I hope it doesn’t go any further. [Found a bit more in the next article I read today from JASIST. ]
Also good in that it influenced me to track down many of its citations. Yay! I love productive sources.
I have one gripe with something Hjørland writes. Honestly, though, it is something I am noticing in lots of places lately. Raber is prolific at it, particularly in his ch. 9 on relevance. I had intended to critique that chapter but may let it go in the spirit of vacationing.
Here is the quote from Hjørland:
To say about something that it is informative means that this thing may answer a question for somebody. The informativeness is thus a relation between the question and the thing. No thing is inherently informative. To consider something information is thus always to consider it as informative in relation to some possible questions (1451, emphasis in original).
No! No! No! No!
I agree with everything in those statements except the reliance on question answering. Information does not only answer questions and may, in fact, often only generate them. It also “does” other things. Information may impact us, it affects us, it may even change us, and it can answer questions, and/or generate them.
Perhaps Hjørland only means that a post hoc conditional can be constructed along the lines of, “If P had had this question, then this information would have answered it.” These sorts of post hoc conditionals could be constructed for the other things information “does” in my view, also. But they are wrong and useless. At best, they confuse the matter as to what kind of theoretical entity information is. They are philosophical child’s play and serve no useful function in the kind of analysis we need. I am not claiming that they are not useful constructs in other situations and/or arenas.
I do not think Hjørland means this, though, as it would seem to run counter to some of the arguments I have seen him make. I also (like to) imagine that he would agree with an expanded role for information than just answering questions. Thus, despite the natural tendency to collapse nuances, and the limited space in a peer-reviewed journal article, can we please not do this when the point is to explicate the concept itself?
Raber (see above) does something similar at one point in his chapter on relevance (ch. 9):
At this point, from the perspective of a user of information, the conceptual distinction between relevance and pertinence breaks down. Information is either useful or it isn’t (186, emphasis mine).
No! No! No! I do agree with his analysis of the break down between relevance and pertinence for the user. I do not agree, though, that, even from the user’s perspective, information is either useful or not.
What possible definition of “useful” could one possibly be using that is this broad? I accept that many people think that one this broad exists; I do not think there is a useful definition of “useful” that is so broad, though. [I am well aware of what I just did, but I think I can rely on you to properly parse what I meant. Isn't language lovely?]
A second issue with using this term (and probably most others one could find) is that it immediately becomes, “Useful (or whatever) from whose perspective?” Well, we were considering it from the user’s personal perspective, so …. There is much that I would personally consider as relevant to me that I would not define as “useful.” While you might use that term, and I might also in the same sort of post hoc conditional that I critiqued above, I would use a much narrower term to describe the effect, or the relevance, of the information on or to me. Perhaps one could consider such terms synonyms from a gross perspective, but that gross conflation of terms is one I find not very relevant.
I am having a hard time finding specific examples that others might accept. [One of my weaknesses which needs addressing if I am going to continue in my analytical mode....] The best I can express my point at the moment is to say that human language and psychology are both far too complex to reduce the fact that something is relevant to some individual to its being useful to them. That is, it may be anything but useful at the time and only later come to be described as useful. Perhaps, rarely, never to be so described by the said individual. Thus, any attribution of “usefulness” is made by another, which has already been shown as irrelevant to the individual user.
My argument as to broadening information past simply answering questions applies to relevance. That is, something is relevant to us if it affects us, impacts us, or changes us, and not just if we find it useful.
I think Raber actually knows this as displayed later in the same chapter.
Given what we have discussed so far, we must now ask what difference does the use of information make to me? Am I any different after its use? Note that I need not be any better off for using information for it to be relevant. In the presentation of relevance, the only issue is whether or not the use of information will change me, my situation, or both (189, emphasis mine).
By the way, I think a large part of the issue here (above) is this use of the concept of “use.” Clearly, we can often be said to use information, but I do not think all of our interactions with information can be adequately described by this concept. It is far too general a concept and, perhaps, implies intention to use. I vehemently disagree that all of our interactions with information involve intention.
Raber adds a few pages later:
If, on the other hand, the text leads me to change anything about my thinking, i.e., it makes a difference to me, then the text becomes relevant information (191).
Hmm? So are all differences to me useful differences?
I apologize if much of this thinking seems highly confused. It is. And I do not like it. But I am (have been, really) embarking on a serious quest to understand the most fundamental concepts in our field and how they “work” in reality, that is, with real individual experiencing subjects who are situated in a social (and historical and political) context.
We, as a field and as a society, have inherited some really flawed ways of viewing many things, but most importantly, for the work we do, we have a seriously flawed view of how language is employed.
Most of our fundamental concepts, and the concepts we use to talk about them, are highly complex, and confusing. Concepts such as information, relevance, aboutness and meaning that are key to what we do in LIS are a complete mess. We generally get by using them in everyday life because the implications of (minor) differences in use have little consequence, but in our field it is different. Those difference in use have almost completely stifled our field. All of these terms have objective (and/or inter-subjective) and subjective components. The same goes for use and many of the other terms we employ when talking about our core concepts.
I am currently unable to say exactly why, but I feel (and think) that these differences in use of our core theoretical concepts are today of much greater import than they were in the not too distant professional past. Something about the interaction of people and information, how much of it is available, from many more sources, shifting notions of authority and authorship, etc. are making these conceptual issues of far greater import.
I was just finishing reading Raber’s ch. 9 and was coming to the conclusion that perhaps in LIS that it is OK to talk (primarily) about the use of information, seeing as how we are dealing primarily with recorded knowledge. I still felt that was too narrow, but that perhaps we should narrow down a bit on the types of information we are really concerned with. But Raber made me regroup.
These needs then begin as something felt rather than something thought. As of now we really don’t know how or why we become conscious of and capable of articulating needs as complex as the need for information. …
Given a human reality that is necessarily constructed from the not always knowable or predictable relations between self and others, we must grant that the final goal of information seekers may be as affective as cognitive. … To be meaningful, information science must be inclusive. It must focus its attention on a wide variety of information, information users, and information use if it is to assert a legitimate claim to be a science about all information and its users (199, emphasis in original).
So perhaps library science can retreat to explicit information use (although I do not think so), but information science a la Raber cannot! I do think information science needs to rein itself in some as to what kinds of information and information use it considers its domain (see Hjørland article above for some of the ideas that make me think this). Nonetheless, both library and information science need to consider information in its non-formally recorded modes and also its interactions with individual users in a sense broader than “use.”
Fonseca, Frederico. “The Double Role of Ontologies in Information Science Research.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 58 (6): 786-793, 2007.